Early Childhood Ireland’s mission is to inspire and enable its members to provide quality experiences where every young child is thriving and learning. Mental health is a key component of humans thriving and it could be argued that our most important goal is to protect and enhance our children’s mental health.
Emotional health involves knowing that we are loved and are lovable, believing that we are good people, knowing how to be happy and feeling safe. Psychological resilience involves believing that we are born with the capacity to have inner emotional strength and that we are born with the capacity to be good, productive citizens. This enables us to tap into our inner emotional strength, to find solutions to emotional challenges, and to reach out for help when we need it.
There is no doubt that over the last 18 months we have been presented with a number of emotional challenges. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic we are all more or less experiencing a post-traumatic stress reaction. Most of us will find a way to resolve this while some of us will require professional help.
For Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare professionals and service owners there have been particular stresses and challenges. These include trying to continue to provide services but in a safe way; dealing with substantial unknowns, particularly financial vulnerability; and managing children’s stress and uncertainty while having these same feelings ourselves. This comes on top of dealing with the personal challenges and losses the pandemic brought to us all.
However, emerging from the pandemic there is an opportunity to take stock, to re-evaluate, and to pivot our services. If we accept that protecting and enhancing our children’s emotional wellbeing is our key goal, our special contribution to the lives of the children who engage in our services in their most formative years, then now is the time to consolidate this goal.
Self-auditing our service around a number of key parameters is a starting point. Is each individual child’s feeling of being loved, belief that he/she is a good person, ability to be happy and feelings of security, enhanced by being involved in our services. Do we measure this? Have we trained our staff to deliver this? Do parents understand and support this key goal? Are we doing all we can to protect the emotional wellbeing of our staff?
Of course, it is crucial that we who are working and running settings prioritise our own mental health, knowing that it is hard to enhance the wellbeing of others if we are not looking after our own wellbeing. Doing this can be challenging. It starts with being honest with ourselves regarding our overall psychological wellbeing. Asking ourselves do we believe in our hearts that we are loved and are lovable, that we are good people, that we can be happy? Asking ourselves do we feel safe?
It involves assessing whether our work life adds or detracts from our wellbeing. Conducting an emotional risk assessment can be a useful exercise alongside identifying what we can do to enhance our emotional wellbeing. Knowing what skills and supports we have to identify and manage emotional challenges and to identify when we might need to seek additional support, is important. Simply ensuring we do one thing every day that enhances our sense of self-worth is very useful.
It sometimes takes a crisis to remind us of our key purpose, of the key meaning of why we chose the vocation we chose. Funding, regulation, staffing and education dominate most of our working lives. But if we strive to create the most productive emotional environment, these requirements will be addressed.
In time, our invaluable contribution to children’s lives and emotional wellbeing will be appreciated and will get the support and funding required, most likely when those children emerging from our services are making the decisions.
Tough times cause us to question our purpose. I can think of no greater a contribution than to enhance the emotional and psychological wellbeing of our children. This, they will carry, throughout their lives.